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Maintenance Lessons Learned from 4 Movies

Grace Flack
  • Oct 03, 2018
  • 4 minute read

Favorite Maintenance Moments in Popular Films

We’re all movie buffs in our own way, whether you’re into comedies, dramas, chick-flicks or thrillers.  

And it’s neat to see how maintenance shows up in some of our favorite movies, as well as the lessons we can learn from those characters. 

That’s why we recently recorded a two-part podcast on Movies & Maintenance, where we explored maintenance lessons in four movies.


  • Apollo 13 

  • Star Wars 

  • Brazil 

  • Airport, 1970 


Here’s what we learned from each of them: 

“Houston, we have a problem”

Apollo 13 is a classic, and we all recognize the quote pulled from the actual events of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission bound for the moon. Three astronauts on what was supposed to be a “routine flight” to the moon find themselves in peril after an oxygen tank explodes and damages the spacecraft. The real-life challenge was how to bring them back to Earth before suffocating or running out of power. The strong collaboration and communication with Mission Control is key in the rescue.  

Fun Fact: Apollo 13 is full of major actors, but here’s who was considered.  Brad Pitt turned down an offer to appear in Apollo 13, so he could star in Seven. The role of Fred Haise was offered to John Cusack and Charlie Sheen before Paxton agreed. John Travolta was reportedly in the running for the role of Lovell. 

Lessons learned: 

  • The importance of having critical spare parts 

  • Downtime is a killer of time and profit 

  • The need for crisis management and having a plan 

  • The benefit of having a system to manage maintenance work 


May the maintenance force be with you 

No matter which Star Wars Episode is your favorite, they each offer lots of fun adventures and insight, even when it comes to maintenance and operations.  

In Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, we take a look at the hyperdrive failure scene on the Millennium Falcon. The “old bucket of bolts” that Princess Leia chides Han Solo is suspect of its ability to reliably fire up and get out of Vader’s way fast.  

Fun Fact: The Empire Strikes Back has one of the most famous movie lines and one of the most misquoted! When Vader tells Luke that they are father and son, it’s not “Luke, I am your father.” The actual line is “No, I am your father.” 

Lessons learned: 

  • The danger of a culture where failure is accepted 

  • The importance of doing good maintenance on older assets to keep them effective 

  • The benefit of preventive maintenance to stretch the life of assets 


Have you filled out your 27 B/6 paperwork? 

Brazil is a 1985 dystopian science fiction movie with a maintenance character, Harry Tuttle, played by Robert De Niro. This fantastic film offers great visual scenery and depiction of an awkward, ordered society that controls citizens through Central Services for HVAC maintenance. When the main character Sam Lowry’s AC breaks down, he calls Central Services only to encounter DeNiro as Tuttle, a renegade heating engineer that enjoys the thrill of the repair without all the despised paperwork. Tuttle is a Robin Hood of sorts that helps society with quick and reliable repair without all the hassle. 

Fun Fact: Brazil is directed by Terry Gilliam, who is one of the members of the Monty Python comedy troupe. Nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Original Screenplay and Set Decoration), the movie has nothing to do with Brazil, the country. Gilliam chose the title after witnessing a man sitting on a beach in bad weather and listening to the song that plays over the opening credits, titled “Brazil.” Gilliam felt that the fact that the man was enjoying himself in bad elements was due to the song.  

Lessons learned: 

  • Correlation to modern-day IoT (Internet of Things) and catching issues before they happen without human interaction 

  • Paperwork is a necessary evil, but you don’t have to let it drive the process 

  • Maintenance technicians are modern-day heroes 


“This plane is built to withstand anything... except a bad pilot” 

Our last movie featuring maintenance is Airport, 1970. This film centers on an airplane that has been damaged by a passenger that exploded a bomb. Like Apollo 13, an ordinary flight turns into a rescue mission in seconds. This film started a series of 4 Airport disaster films, as well as was the major fodder for the Airplane! spoof films. 

In this scene, we witness Joe Patroni, played by George Kennedy, who is the chief mechanic for the airline trying to move a plane off a snow-laden runway. The pilot refuses to push the plane harder as Patroni is yelling at him to push it more. He knows more than any of the pilots or airline execs about every inch of the planes, their strengths, weaknesses, and all the nooks and crannies.   

Fun Fact: George Kennedy is the only actor to appear in all 4 Airport movies. Joe Patroni is promoted to VP of Operations (Airport 75, Airport 77) and eventually the pilot in the last film (Airport 79: The Concorde).  


Lessons learned:

  • The value of the reliable maintenance person who knows everything about assets and equipment 

  • The importance of capturing that historical information (and in a digital format) from long-time staff 

  • Understanding the limits of your assets 

  • How different people and departments can come together to solve a problem 

As many of these movies show, maintenance plays an important part in our work and world. Listen to the podcast and then let us know if you have specific movies with your favorite maintenance scenes or characters you would like to share! 

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